Derek Taylor: All-MSAC team leaves many scratching heads
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - For high school sports fans who still believe coaches are the most credible judges of athletic talent and how it should be recognized through awards, the All-Mountain State Athletic Conference softball team should be taken as Exhibit A to the contrary.
The team was announced Tuesday in following with the MSAC tradition of withholding its all-conference teams until the last league member is eliminated from postseason play. Hurricane won the Class AAA state championship last Thursday, leaving the All-MSAC team to be released after the conclusion of the State Tournament.
Once it found its way into sports departments across the southern half of the state, questions immediately began being asked amongst writers.
Once the list made it onto the Internet, those questions went viral. Well, at least in MSAC country.
The league's Player of the Year - Cabell Midland third baseman Morgan Zerkle - was easy to understand. Zerkle plays third base better than anyone this writer has seen in years and her effectiveness as the Knights' leadoff hitter was undeniable.
In fact, there is not much to question on the All-MSAC First Team. The league was very top heavy this year, with Hurricane, Midland and St. Albans pretty much dominating while South Charleston and Ripley were ranked on the fringe of the statewide sportswriters Class AAA poll all year.
Fittingly, the 16-player roster recognizes such All-Kanawha Valley honorees as Hurricane's Courtney Rogers, Linzie Reynolds and Addie Fullen. St. Albans' Ali Haynes is there as expected, and her fellow All-KV pitcher Alli Burdette from SC is too. Midland's Morgan Kelley - like Zerkle a Marshall signee - is there, as is Knights outfielder Jenny Brumfield and George Washington infielder Rachel Ward, who was also an All-KV selection.
After that, though, the record needle is ripped off the turntable leaving silence. That quiet is quickly filled by a befuddled chorus of "What?" from those who follow the sport with a wider angle than one that just allows us to see our team and whoever our team is playing that day.
Those voices finally come to a stuttering, stumbling halt by the time the Special Mention list is read. There, fans found a curious name: Hurricane's Alexander Dunham.
Dunham is a junior outfielder at Hurricane. In baseball.
Hurricane senior softball center fielder Nicole Pierson, will play college softball at Shenandoah University and hit .372 for the Redskins, but is not on the MSAC team.
MSAC Commissioner Fred Aldridge took full responsibility for the snafu Wednesday. The MSAC office had the baseball player's named listed as "Alexandra."
"That has to be the problem," Aldridge said. "The girl you're referring to (Pierson) should be in that spot instead of him."
This relegates the issue to being one of a clerical nature.
Elsewhere, MSAC coaches managed to put a 2012 second-team All-State pick - St. Albans junior Madi Marshall - on the honorable mention list (below Dunham, incidentally) after Marshall led the Red Dragons with a .458 batting average in 2013 and was named to the All-Kanawha Valley team.
Also on that honorable mention list - the equivalent of fourth team - was Hurricane sophomore pitcher/third baseman Emily Davis. All Davis did this season was hit .385 with 40 RBI and go 11-3 in the circle.
The second-team All-conference pitchers posted records of 8-3, 7-7 and 2-7.
The MSAC teams are voted on by individual position, but presented in catch-all lists of infielders or outfielders. Therefore, while Marshall or Hurricane's Cassi Sargent (.429) might be considered among the league's best players, since they did not win a vote to settle who was the best shortstop - a vote apparently won by Ward - they were not afforded spots on first team.
Of course, this leads to the possibility of a weaker position in terms of depth within the conference being disproportionately represented when the list is simply defining the best infielders. It also explains why SA third baseman Alyssa Bonham is on first team as an infielder after hitting .347, while Marshall is left as an afterthought.
Bonham is an up-and-comer who will be relied on heavily by SA next year, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a coach in the MSAC - or elsewhere - who would tell you they'd rather face Marshall at the plate, or in the infield, right now.
This is why All-State teams - as well as the All-Kanawha Valley team - are done with the mindset of recognizing the best players, regardless of position. The state's sportswriters compile those teams, with input from coaches by way of ballots and requests for statistics.
Sometimes this isn't even helpful, as evidenced with the Class A All-State team released Tuesday. Wahama pitcher Ashley Templeton was listed as a second-teamer.
She graduated last year.
I spoke with Wahama Principal Kenny Bond on Tuesday about the matter. He was pleasant and non-confrontational about the matter and he read me a forwarded email sent to him from White Falcons Coach Brent Larck. The email requested All-State support for several Wahama players but wasn't sent to a single writer, much less the chairman of the All-State softball committee.
That committee, on which I serve, received neither a ballot nor a statistics update from Wahama, and it's a shame. The team lost to Buffalo in the Region 4 semifinals and won the Best of the Best Class A division in 2013.
Sportswriters are, indeed, fallible. However, the methods used by state media in pursuit of recognizing the best are more suited to presenting a clearer picture of who those 'best' actually are. Some third-party input might help the MSAC and other leagues more properly recognize their top players.
The fact that Beckley won eight games and had one fewer player (four) listed among the All-MSAC teams than league champion and second-ranked Cabell Midland (27-6) should be enough evidence that something is wrong with the selection process used by the conference.
Contact Preps Editor Derek Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5170. Follow him on Twitter @ItsreallyDT